A COUNTY Durham bus lane which saw an average of 263 people being caught per day has seen thousands of fines cancelled following appeal, we can reveal.
A Freedom of Information request, submitted by The Northern Echo, revealed around three in every four appeals relating to the Quarryheads Lane ‘bus gate’ were successful.
Durham County Council has said it has installed nine additional signs to warn motorists while saying it took “every effort” in warning drivers ahead of operation.
The bus lane, which became operational in September last year, quickly gained notoriety after more than 8,000 Penalty Charge Notices were originally issued in its first several weeks.
At the time, motorists slammed Durham County Council claiming there had been a ‘lack of signage and advanced warning’.
But it has now emerged that thousands of fines have been thrown out by the council, while figures revealed almost 6,000 motorists were caught in the months that followed.
Figures from the Freedom of Information request showed that between September 1, 2020 and February 17, 2021, the council received 4,221 appeals relating to the bus lane.
But 3,251 fines were successfully cancelled under what is known as a ‘Notice of Acceptance’ – while just 869 appeals were rejected.
Although a Notice of Acceptance also includes fines “re-served” to hire firms, vehicle traders and previous keepers, it is understood the majority are from successful appeals.
One County Durham woman said her, and her husband had seen two appeals successfully upheld after raising concerns over the notice given and signage.
Melanie Dixon of Chester-le-Street said between them they had received four fines in just one week in September while running their daughter to and from a nearby school.
She said: “We appealed the tickets after we went down because we couldn’t see the signs, they introduced the warning letter in August but living in Chester-le-Street we didn’t know anything about it.
“When I asked Durham County Council, they said the school had not been notified of the bus lane because it was just out of the boundary, so parents weren’t told.”
Ms Dixon, who said she believed there had been insufficient signage, said she understood why motorists could “easily miss” signs warning of the bus lane.
She said: “There were no warning signs. When you get to the roundabout, there is a sign on the left but you are not looking left, you’re looking right to see what’s coming – that would be easily missed if you were not aware of the changes.”
Appealing on the grounds of ‘lack of signage, notice and ‘bus gate’ wording,’ Ms Dixon said the council had agreed to null two out of the four fines.
She said: “I really feel that it was introduced by stealth with warning letters in August, obviously there was not the traffic that there was in September as things had started to go back to normal.
“With every thing that had been going on with Covid, people worried abut job losses and a global pandemic that we are all reeling from, it just seemed that all Durham County Council was worried about was raking in money.”
Figures from the Freedom of Information revealed that although there had been a marked reduction in fines relating to Quarryheads Lane following its first two months of operation, the bus lane was still catching the equivalent of 95 drivers per day in November and December.
In response, Durham County Council said it had installed additional signage following concerns first raised as it said it continues to seek to “raise awareness” that enforcement is taking place.
Dave Lewin, traffic management section manager at Durham County Council, said: “We introduced the bus lane at Quarryheads Lane to help manage traffic while essential repairs are undertaken to New Elvet Bridge.
“Every effort was made to advise drivers of the creation of the bus lane in advance, with 2,750 information packs distributed to nearby residents and businesses.
“We also issued warning notices rather than Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) for the first six weeks it was in operation to give people a chance to get used to the new arrangements before beginning enforcement.
“It is worth stressing that the number of notices of acceptance in the Freedom of Information response includes repeat offenders where not all PCNs may have been enforced.
“We continue to seek to raise awareness of the bus lane and have put up nine additional signs to warn motorists.”